Ford Focus ST-3 2.0

TDCI Powershift

Ford Focus ST-3, front static
Ford Focus ST-3, front static 2
Ford Focus ST-3, side static 2
Ford Focus ST-3, side static
Ford Focus ST-3, rear seats
Ford Focus ST-3, front seats
Ford Focus ST-3, dashboard
Ford Focus ST-3, rear static
Ford Focus ST-3, boot

THERE may still be a few drivers who think the words diesel, automatic and sporty can't live together in the same sentence.

Well, they're wrong, and need a drive in the latest Ford Focus to prove it. They'll be glad they did.

Ford has made a niche for itself building family cars that combine decent value with driving panache in a package that simply makes you smile when you're in the mood for some fun.

But it has always been linked to a combination of peppy petrol engine and a manual gearbox. Great fun, of course, but not now the only way to achieve a smile-a-mile (or more).

The rather handsome car you see here throws out the petrol engine in favour of a diesel and ditches the DIY gearbox for one that looks after itself unless you want to play Lewis Hamilton with the paddles.

In the process it becomes one of the dearest versions of the Focus, costing a bit more (£1,190) than the rather faster petrol version which is only available with a manual gearbox, but which will cost more to fuel and, with the new road fund licence bands, a lot more to tax in year one (£500 plays £160).

But enough statistics. There is a real surprise in store the first time you apply the throttle in this diesel Focus. With a throaty power roar in the cabin, the car sets off for the horizon with genuine intent.

The gears flick through with scarcely a pause before you spot the numbers appearing on the digital dash readout and decide it's time to back off. Rarely has this sort of performance been so easy to access.

But it's when you reach the corners that the real magic starts. Ford set the bar high with the very first Focus and this latest one would have granddad smiling at the family likeness.

Huggy leather faced front seats set the scene, aided by a chunky steering wheel that feeds back more of what's going on below than most cars these days.

Hunkered down on stiffened suspension that can turn overactive on poor roads, the Focus ST-3 feels like an eager puppy that's been housetrained but not lost the ability to delight and surprise.

One surprise was the way it sipped diesel, showing 42mpg after more than 500 miles of mixed driving, all of it with as much enthusiasm as the law and prudence allowed. When the time did come to fill up, Ford's clever cap-free filler made life usefully easier - and ensures that you can't fill with petrol in error either.

That's a typically practical touch that helps a quick car be sensible family transport too. Those bolstered front seats rob a bit of rear seat legroom but adults still fit - and the boot is generously sized (with a space saver spare wheel beneath, not a can of sealant).

Your considerable outlay on the ST-3 level of trim brings goodies like bi-xenon headlights, cruise control, power adjustments and heating for the front seats, rear parking sensors and heated and power folding door mirrors.

Carried over from the £1,850 cheaper ST-2 are satellite navigation, dual zone air conditioning and the body bits that give the ST versions their visual punch.

The test car upped the sporty looks with shadow black paint (£525) and big 19in alloy wheels in black too (£575) that come with red brake callipers and scuff plates that illuminate in red when you open a front door.

FAST FACTS

Ford Focus ST-3 2.0 TDCI Powershift

Price: £28,655

Mechanical: 182bhp, 1,997cc, 4cyl diesel engine driving front wheels via 6-speed automatic gearbox

Max Speed: 135mph

0-62mph: 7.8 seconds

Combined MPG: 61.4

Insurance Group: 26

C02 emissions: 119g/km

Bik rating: 25%

Warranty: 3yrs/60,000 miles

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